Dublin highlights: How to spend a weekend in the Irish capital

Dublin has it all. A rich collection of historic monuments and museums? Check. Good looking and intriguing buildings? Of course. Lots of outdoor space and green parks? Yep. Trendy bars and restaurants? Loads of them. If you're after a city break with all of these and more, then Dublin is for you.

Dublin highlights: How to spend a weekend in the Irish capital © Barry Mason - Alamy Stock Photo
Dublin highlights: How to spend a weekend in the Irish capital © Barry Mason - Alamy Stock Photo

The Irish capital really is the king of cool when it comes to weekend escapes and, thanks to Aer Lingus, you can fly direct to Dublin from airports across the UK. Depending on your departure airport, the country's national carrier will get you there in under an hour, from as little as £24.99 each way. Here, we highlight just some of Dublin's most tantalising attractions including museums, foodie spots, and where to find that creamy pint of Guinness (and yes, it really does taste better in Dublin!).

Discover Dublin's story

Culture vultures could easily spend a week getting to know Dublin's treasures - the city is simply bursting with museums, galleries, and nooks and crannies of interest. From gardens and gates to detailed exhibitions and unrivalled architecture, there's plenty to see, learn, and discover in Dublin.

For a look deep into the past, The National Museum of Ireland - Archeology is equally as impressive inside as it is outside. The striking building houses the country's most precious artefacts dating from the 8th century, as well as the world's most comprehensive collection of Celtic metalwork.

Trinity College is a natural attraction for many keen to glimpse the rich academic history of Dublin. Join a walking tour to get the most out of Trinity College, and don't miss the distinctive Long Room, which looks almost like something out of Harry Potter.

The Long Room, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland - photo courtesy of Tourism Ireland
The Long Room, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland - photo courtesy of Tourism Ireland

You'd be forgiven for mistaking Dublin Castle for some sort of ornate palace - the site has been extended, amended, and added to over the centuries, with only the distinctive medieval tower lending any real age to the property, dating from 1258. That's not to say this site hasn't been of vital importance - it certainly has, notably as the seat of English, then British, rule for more than 700 years.

While functioning as the city's General Post Office, the GPO also has a moving exhibition about the Easter Rising of 1916. The GPO was quickly commandeered as the HQ for the uprising in 1916, and today's exhibition explains what happened in sensitive detail, including an immersive cinematic experience, which really brings the events before, during, and after those six days to life.

The General Post Office, Dublin, Ireland © James Fennell - Tourism Ireland
The General Post Office, Dublin, Ireland © James Fennell - Tourism Ireland

If you prefer your history lightly dusted, pop into the National Library of Ireland to see the elegant domed reading room, or stroll across the iconic Ha'Penny Bridge (officially the Liffey Bridge), which was built in 1816 to replace a retired ferry service and charged pedestrians the princely toll of its now-nickname to cross the river.

For more outdoor attractions, visit St Stephen's Green and its various statues, including Fusiliers' Arch and a memorial to W B Yeats, among others. Over in Merrion Square, you'll come across the Oscar Wilde Statue, while any walk down O'Connell Street should include a pause at the Daniel O'Connell Statue to see if you can spot the shrapnel marks from the Easter Rising of 1916. You can also head indoors and gaze at the works of Jack B Yeats and other Irish painters at The National Gallery.

Get to know your booze

Love it or hate it, a trip to the Guinness Storehouse is time well spent when visiting Dublin. It's a popular, award-winning, attraction and for good reason: Guinness has - and continues - to play a huge role in the city's industry, and the storehouse artfully charts its growth from 1759 to the present day. Follow the exhibition route detailing The Guinness Story, which winds its way up to The Gravity Bar. Keep your ticket, as here you can sup a free pint of Guinness while taking in the 360° view.

The Gravity Bar on top of the Guinness Storehouse - photo courtesy of Dublin Regional Tourism Authority
The Gravity Bar on top of the Guinness Storehouse - photo courtesy of Dublin Regional Tourism Authority

The location of another of Ireland's finest exports has recently reopened after a £9.5 million upgrade. Jameson Distillery Bow St. offers a number of ways for you to explore its heritage: take the Bow St. Experience - a 40-minute tour of the revamped distillery - to see how Jameson's whiskey is produced, or opt for The Whiskey Makers Experience, a detailed look at the flavours and techniques that create Jameonson's. There's also The Whiskey Shakers Experience, a cocktail masterclass with Jameson's at its heart. You could, of course, just head to JJ's Bar for your very own tasting session.

Fill your suitcase

Dublin is crammed with tempting outlets that will help you part with your cash. Of course, you can visit the usual high street names, but for something special, call by the impressive Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, a beautiful Georgian building filled with boutiques selling all things from posh candles to crafted jewellery, and clothes. There's also a grand open food court, from which you can grab a coffee and admire the interior.

The Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, Dublin © J H Janßen - Wikimedia Commons
The Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, Dublin © J H Janßen - Wikimedia Commons

Vinyl lovers are also in for a treat with two great rummaging opportunities at Freebird Records (which also sells secondhand books at bargain prices), and Spindizzy Records. The latter can be found in St George's Arcade along with many market stalls.

Art aficionados should sniff out Designyard Gallery with its statement sculptures, while those after a little luxury might want to immerse themselves in Brown Thomas, Dublin's go-to department store with all the big hitters inside.

Across the river, on the north side of the Liffey, sits The Grand Social. A beloved music venue, it throws open its doors every Saturday to host the Ha'Penny Market from 12pm to 6pm. This fair blends vintage clothes, accessories and crafts in a fun and friendly environment where it's completely acceptable to wander round the stalls with a giant G&T in hand - perfect!

Where to eat, drink, and be very merry

Most visitors to Dublin are drawn to the lively atmosphere of Temple Bar - the somewhat notorious strip of pubs and bars, which attracts groups and tourists in droves. If you fancy a flavour of this popular street then aim for a pint of the black stuff in The Temple Bar while listening to some folky favourites.

Evening in Temple Bar, Dublin © Rob Durston - Fáilte Ireland
Evening in Temple Bar, Dublin © Rob Durston - Fáilte Ireland

The Porterhouse, with its selection of cocktails and - more importantly - beers brewed in-house, is another good option. For huge tasty portions, head to the diner-style institution that is Elephant & Castle, loved for its spicy chicken wings and homemade burgers.

While there are plenty of buzzing places to enjoy a drink in Temple Bar, the city has everything from super trendy restaurants to the classic old man's pub that offer alternative experiences in the Irish capital. Within walking distance of Temple Bar is Season, a laid-back trattoria serving up delicious pizzas and pasta made to order*.

The area around South William Street offers an eclectic mix of places to eat and drink, many oozing such appeal that it makes deciding exactly where to go somewhat of a challenge. For a hearty brunch, try the busy Metro Café, where you'll find everything from buttermilk pancakes to loaded cooked breakfasts, all served with a smile and no doubt a comical quip. A mid-afternoon pint can be found in the traditional surroundings of Neary's, while BEAR serves up arguably the best steak with truly hipster vibes.

A truly Irish experience at the Brazen Head, Dublin © Ingolf Pompe 64 - Alamy Stock Photo
A truly Irish experience at the Brazen Head, Dublin © Ingolf Pompe 64 - Alamy Stock Photo

Meanwhile, The Brazen Head will certainly pop up in any search for the best Dublin pubs, given its claim to be Ireland's oldest pub, dating back to 1198. The various rooms are bursting with cosy character and dripping candle wax, while evenings are taken up with events such as storytelling and live music.

Dublin makes a fantastic weekend break. It's quick and easy to get to with Aer Lingus, which operates routes direct from airports across the UK, whether you're departing from Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Leeds, Birmingham, London, or Cardiff, among others. You can find many great value fares to Dublin with Aer Lingus online to put this guide to making the most of a weekend in Dublin to the test. Remember to see what the weather in Dublin is like, and when we think is the best time to go for some sunshine.

*Please note: the Italian restaurant Season is undergoing a facelift, and is due to reopen in June 2017. Add it to your list and tell us what you think!

Kirsten Henton

Kirsten Henton
Posted on Tuesday 11th April 2017 in: City Culture Europe

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